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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: December 18, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome back to HBS, and thank you for your faithful attentiveness to the Word of God.
It seems as though time speeds up as the Christmas holiday season draws near. The phrase, “So much to do and so little time” comes to mind. It is with that thought I remind the group that it’s customary for this Bible guide to “rest” during the holidays. That doesn’t mean I leave my personal time with the Lord. I’ll stay in the Word and so should y’all. But it does mean this is the final Bible lesson of 2020. The first lesson of 2021 will be published on Friday, January 08, 2021.
Please open your Bible at 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.
The Believer’s Conduct
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
The Thessalonian church was a model church in many ways. Its members cherished God's Word, they manifested faith, hope, and love in their dealings with one another and those that were yet outside of Christ Jesus, and exhibited a missionary zeal. This led to a stellar reputation in their region (1 Thessalonians 1:1–9). However, these Believers were not immune to temptation. Paul recognized the possibility that some members of the church might become “unruly,” that is, unreasonably critical of their spiritual leaders, so he instructed them “to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” The author of Hebrews encourages a similar relationship between
Believers and the spiritual leaders that “ruleth” over them saying, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation (or conduct)” (Hebrews 13:7).
1 Thessalonians 4 ended with our Apostle Paul exhorting the saints in Thessalonica to, “…comfort one another with these words.” What “words?” the good news re: the mystery of the Rapture of God’s true Church. Thus, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 references the Body of Christ while 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 stands as a warning to the unsaved individual who chooses to remain “outside of Christ,” i.e., a lost enemy of God.
In the Scripture passage currently under study, we find Paul writing sound, practical exhortations to the saints in Thessalonica, but truth be told they apply to every true Believer in Christ. Therefore, we should take them to heart, meaning, we should dutifully apply these instructions to our lives.
In verses 5:12-13 Paul deals with the Believer’s rapport with their spiritual leaders, exhorting them to recognize “them which labour among you” as such.
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you,” – Paul doesn’t tell us who these people are. It is evident, however, that the Body of Christ, a.k.a. God’s Church was not left to its own devices, much like a sailing ship without a helm and rudder. Godly men were appointed to leadership positions in the body to minister to its spiritual needs when Paul and others of his stature were absent. For instance, we know that there were “elders” watching over the grace church at Ephesus, and over the churches in Crete (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5), and that the church offices of “bishops and deacons” existed in Philippi (Philippians 1:1). Knowing this there is every reason to believe that similar church offices would be filled in every newly formed grace assembly, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Where does this concept originate? Good question. The answer is found in the Scriptures. Please turn with me in your Bible to Ephesians 4:11: “And he (the risen Lord) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”
While noting the number of times Paul said, “some” in the above passage please keep one finger at that Bible address and turn to 1 Corinthians 12:28:31. Here Paul addressed the same topic to the saints in Corinth writing, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:28-31).
First, in Ephesians 4:11 Paul stated that our ascended Lord “gave… some to be “pastors and teachers;” that is to say these men were called to be “pastors and teachers” in the early church for there was a great need. We see this same thought expressed in 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God hath set some in the church…” among these are “teachers,” and they were to be recognized as “teachers” called by God.
Before we go any further I’d like to point out the term “called” does not mean God Himself visited them in a dream or what not and personally called them to the ministry, as the Lord Jesus Christ did with the twelve apostles and then later with Saul of Tarsus. It means the Holy Spirit opened their heart to receive and understand His Word and those truths motivated them to serve Him and the cause of Christ. So in one sense that’s how they were “called” to the ministry. I suppose a biblical example at this time would be appropriate so please turn to 2 Corinthians 5:17-20:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
This passage doesn’t name a specific church office, per se, but it does inform us that every Believer in Christ Jesus is a “new creature” and has been “called” to “the ministry of reconciliation.” For God “hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;”
How many of you know you are God’s “ambassador” on earth and have been committed with “the word (message) of reconciliation; To with, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them?”
I never heard this truth in the churches where I belonged. I learned about it during my personal Bible study. But, in truth, this is another Bible passage that I’ve never heard anyone preach/teach a sermon on until I started attending a Grace Bible Church in my locale. But here’s the thing, once you know and understand this biblical truth and respond dutifully to it, then in a sense you are called to this God-given ministry.
I have one more example and then we’ll move on. I’ve worked closely with pastors and elders over the years as a facilitator and Bible teacher in more than a few ministries. One co-worker told me he decided to become a pastor because of God’s great love for us and he wanted everyone within hear-shot to know what he knows, namely, that salvation is of God alone, through faith alone, in the finished work of the cross alone. That was his motivation to serve the Lord and others. It was a joy to work with such a focused man of God. The flip-side of that example follows. I’ve known and worked with several church deacons and can honestly say a few of them are my friends. One gentleman told me he was selected to this church office by the elders of his assembly based on the fact that he was newly-married of only one wife, he was involved in several ministries and had proven faithful, and both he and his wife tithed 10% of their income to his non-denominational church. The difference in these two men’s calling stands out and I pray you are able to recognize that difference? For those of you who are struggling with this, the gentleman in the former example responded to God’s truth re: His great love for us, while the latter was invited to become a church deacon based on his performance in his church.
That being said, in 1 Corinthians 12:29 Paul continues his thought by asking his readers, “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?” The short answer is no they are not. With respect to the church office of teaching, Paul asked, “are all teachers?” indicating that certain individuals (not all) are called by God to this ministry, confirming Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 3:1: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”
I don’t believe Paul wrote this message because problems existed in the grace assembly at Thessalonica, but that the potential for such problems existed. We know that people disrespected authority figures back in Paul’ day. The Jews hated the Romans; and people rejected and persecuted the Apostle Paul wherever he traveled. In like manner, we live in a day of disrespect and rebellion for authority figures, so every true Believer should take these exhortations to heart, for this is what God has said about rank and authority in His Church: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know (recognize) them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;” (5:12).
“…And we beseech you, brethren, to know (recognize) them – here I believe Paul’s saying were not to regard them as a distant person, i.e., as a stranger, avoiding any and all contact with them. We’re to “know” them as our spiritual “ruler;” and when they speak words of admonishment, we recognize their message not as coming from a distant stranger, but as those of our pastor, i.e., our friend in Christ. I look at this thusly, a friend will tell us the truth, always, even if it makes us uncomfortable. A stranger, on the other hand, is aloof and disinterested in. They could care less about you and what’s going on in your life, do you see the difference?
“and are over you in the Lord,” – this phrase indicates the various church offices were appointed by the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, and the men who fill these positions are under His direction for He is the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18). These men are not sovereign, but are themselves subject to the One who is over them and that, again, is the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase “are over you” is translated “ruleth” in Romans 12:8. Let’s review that passage of Scripture, starting at verse 12:4:
“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:4-8).
We also note the term “ruleth” is found in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
By definition, the term “ruleth” means: “That which is established as a principle, standard or directory; that by which any thing is to be adjusted or regulated, or to which it is to be conformed; that which is settled by authority or custom for guidance and direction. Thus a statute or law is a rule of civil conduct; a canon is a rule of ecclesiastical government; the precept or command of a father is a rule of action or obedience to children; precedents in law are rules of decision to judges; maxims and customs furnish rules for regulating our social opinions and manners. The laws of God are rules for directing us in life, paramount to all others. A rule which you do not apply, is no rule at all.”
“…and admonish you;” – the term “admonish” is also found elsewhere in Paul’s writings: Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; and 2 Thessalonians 4:15 and is rendered “warn” and “warning” in 1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28; and 1 Thessalonians 5:14. The term does not appear anywhere else in the N.T. It means, to put in mind; and then to warn, entreat, exhort. It is one of the responsibilities of a minister to put his people in mind of the truth of God’s Word; to warn them of impending dangers; to exhort them to perform their duty, i.e., “their reasonable service” (Romans 12:1), and to “admonish” them should they go astray.
“And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves” (5:13).
are most certainly living in a time of civil unrest (a lack of peace) in the
USA, but even though you might not approve of everything the president does or
says, you ought to respect him and the office he holds. Similarly, church members should value (esteem)
their spiritual leaders, in love, because of the work they do as the
Lord's servants. Here Paul seems to
imply a link between proper respect for a church's spiritual leaders and peaceful
relations among the church's members. If
some members respect their leaders, but others disrespect them, friction may
arise within the assembly, leading to the members taking sides and forming
factions within the body. Should this
occur, the church will become unsettled. However, if all the members hold their leaders
in high regard, “peace” will characterize their assembly.
Thus, all those brethren who fulfill their obligations as spiritual leaders of the Church are worthy of our respect and love.
“…And be at peace among yourselves” – think this through, there can be no “peace” where order and respect for authority are found wanting. Such “unruly” conduct, left unchecked, will eventually give way to anarchy. Thus, Paul exhorts not only those who have been appointed to oversee (ruleth) the saints, but the “brethren” in general, to “warn them that are unruly” (See Mark 9:50; Romans 12:18, 14:19).
“warn them that are unruly” – this short phrase evokes the idea of the military rank-and-file. Paul could have used the term “disorderly” instead for it means not keeping the ranks, and then irregular, confused, neglectful duty, or “disorderly” behavior. The reference here is to the members of the church who might be irregular in their walk with the Lord and others. It’s not difficult to see when soldiers get out of line, or leave their places in the ranks, or are thrown into confusion, to see that little can be achieved in such a state of irregularity and confusion. The same might be said of the members of the church who are out of their places, who ignore, or refuse to follow the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ. Far too many people in the church today resemble an army where many of its soldiers are out of line and there is insubordination within their ranks, and not even half of them could be called on for efficient service in a military campaign. An army cannot achieve its mission in such an “unruly” state and the same can be said of those who make up God’s true Church, the Body of Christ.
(To be continued)
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